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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC tops William and Mary in first round of NCAA tournament

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Kelly McFarlane (left) celebrates with teammate Rebecca Crabb (rigt). UNC defeated William and Mary 4-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, NC.

Throughout Saturday’s NCAA first-round contest against William and Mary, it seemed something was missing from the usual game day atmosphere at a North Carolina women’s soccer match.

That enormous pressure — the one that comes with playing for a program that’s won this tournament 20 of the 29 times it’s been held — had blown away with the autumn leaves.

After an unprecedented three consecutive losses, the last of which was a never-before-seen first-round exit from the ACC tournament, it seemed no one was expecting much from the Tar Heels.

But out of the spotlight and fresh off a 13-day break, No. 19 UNC erased the memory of the squad that faltered mightily in the final stretch of its season with a 4-1 win against the Tribe.

Entering Saturday, the Tar Heels had gone six of seven games without a first-half goal. But just more than nine minutes into Saturday’s game, UNC junior Alyssa Rich side-volleyed Kealia Ohai’s headed feed into the bottom left corner of the net, giving UNC a 1-0 advantage.

For Rich, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer a year ago before injury, the goal — her first in 2011 — was a huge step personally, as well as for the team going forward.

“I think we kind of got in our own heads, and that’s why we were having a lot of trouble (scoring early),” Rich said.

“I think if we can score early in these games, it will help us keep our confidence in the first half.”

The Tribe answered quickly, evening the score in the 15th minute, and the score remained tied heading into the game’s final third — the portion of the game where the regular-season Tar Heels so often wilted. Of UNC’s 14 goals conceded this season, nine had come after the 65th minute.

But with a healthier roster, coach Anson Dorrance reverted to his high-pressure 3-4-3 formation Saturday and used 22 different players to keep his team fresh throughout the game.

“You can’t play our system unless you’ve got not just the first 11 that’s fit, but basically you have to be fit through players 16 and 17,” Dorrance said. “This break has certainly allowed us to get a little bit healthier, a bit fitter, and that was huge for us.”

As the second half wore on, the Tar Heels peppered the goal, finally breaking the tie in the 67th minute when Rebecca Crabb darted in front of Ranee Premji’s corner kick and head-flicked it into the bottom left corner.

Seven minutes later, Crystal Dunn sprinted past three Tribe defenders before crossing to Kelly McFarlane, who nodded the ball into the net to put UNC up 3-1. By the time Courtney Jones’ 86th-minute strike hit the back netting to secure the final score, the game had been sewn up.

Afterward, for the first time in a while, UNC wasn’t measured against the Tar Heels of old. A win was in hand, and it sure felt good.

“Everyone talks about the legacy of North Carolina, and it does get tough having that pressure on you from year to year,” Rich said. “It’s nice to not have that pressure, to just come out and play for us.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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